HTC Desire S - Personal handset review & tips, by Philip Parker, July 2011
Hello, I would like to share with you my experience of using my HTC Desire S
provided from the University OGC contract with Orange. My handset is on the
standard price plan with a 500MB data bundle. On checking my first bill I
could see data usage increase, though I have not exceeded my data bundle
limit. I could see that it could easily be done if you consistently use the mobile
network for your data connection.
This is a non-biased view of the handset and operating system, although I
have not used any “i” devices, and at the time of writing this document, I have
used the handset for 4 weeks and I have had no prior experience of using an
Android handset or operating system.
I have used Nokia handsets (running Symbian OS) and Samsung handsets
(running Windows 6.0 and 6.5), provided from the University OGC contract
I have tried to keep the review to as few pages as possible and only include
information which I think is relevant.
In my hand, the handset is a nice weight, not too heavy, with a large glass
screen. The screen resolution is excellent and produces a sharp colourful
image. Clean hands are a must though, the slightest bit of oil/grease on your
fingers and it smears over the screen. Hardly deal breaking, but it can grind
on you. Maybe the next step should be „never dirty‟ glass.
At the bottom of the handset is a raised „lip‟ which is very convenient as it
better balances the handset in my hand, and helps to support the handset in a
natural position for me.
The handset only has an onscreen keyboard, no physical QWERTY keys or
„hook‟ buttons, only a power key at the top and volume rocker key on the left
side. There is a 5 mega pixel camera on the back and a 1 mega pixel camera
on the front (for video calling [facetime-esque]), though I have not used any
applications for which the front camera will be used. The camera has face
recognition and auto focus, and after tweaking the settings, gives an
A „tinny‟ speaker is also installed next to the camera lens. I think it‟s a daft
place to put it because as soon as you put the handset down on a flat surface,
it partially conceals the speaker affecting audio quality (I tend to slightly raise
the handset for better sound).
The on-screen keyboard is a bit small when the handset is in portrait mode,
and it is easy to mistype. However, similar to predictive text, the handset
seems to correct my mistakes. It highlights in green, words which it assumes
you are typing and 95% of the time auto corrects correctly. I find it easy and
intuitive to use but the buttons size did make me think twice when first using it.
The handset can be rotated into landscape mode which gives a wider
keyboard layout. (I used to do this for all text input until I noticed just how easy
it is to use the keyboard in portrait mode and how good the correction is).
You can calibrate the touch screen to respond to how you hold the handset
and touch the screen, for a better more responsive and accurate
touching/typing experience, goto Menu -> Settings -> Language & Keyboard -
> Touch Input -> Text Input -> Calibration Tool. I found that after running this
tool my experience was 100% better.
There are 4 „soft keys‟ on the bottom of the handset;
Home – press to go to centre home screen, press and hold for a
shortcut to recent apps.
Menu - press to select „All Apps‟ ¦ Notifications ¦ Personalise ¦
Wallpaper ¦ Ringtones ¦ Settings
Back – press to go back one step
Search – press for phone/Google search, press and hold to activate
The handset has an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the screen
brightness (if set), and a proximity sensor to turn the screen off whilst at your
ear, to prevent accidentally cutting yourself off.
When you turn on the handset, you should find a “tips” icon. I recommend that
you select this icon, it will provide you with information on how to use the
handset and I found it really informative. Shame that I didn‟t read them
straight away: instead learning by using the handset and discovering the
features the long way.
The handset has a 1Ghz processor and 512MB (I think) of RAM (memory). I
find the operating system runs very smoothly and transitions between screens
and applications are fluid.
The top of the screen will display the time, battery power, network signal
strength and data connection (showing up and downloads, and bearer type,
G=GPRS (slowest), E=EDGE (slow), 3G=3G (Fast), 3G+/H=HSPA (Fastest)).
Android 2.3 offers “live wallpapers” which you can think of as being moving
images or videos, as opposed to standard static desktop images.
The Operating System
The handset runs “Android”, which is an operating system provided by
Google. The handset is very Google centric, e.g. the Search “soft key” will
search your handset and Google for your results.
Unlike iPhone, there a several Android App Market Places, from different
providers. iPhone apps must be pre-approved by Apple before they become
available on the app store. This “walled garden” approach means apps are
vetted and approved by Apple, which builds in a level of protection against
viruses and malware.
Android is more „Open Source‟, so many different companies can provide
their own market (or “app store”). This open approach can be less secure.
Though there are relatively few viruses and malware for mobile devices, the
number is growing daily. Criminals will always try to find ways to infiltrate your
handset, so an anti-virus app would be recommended (I am using AVG which
I downloaded from the Google market place for free).
Google provide a “Find my phone” feature which can allow you to locate your
handset, provided that you agree to use Google location services. This
service reports back to Google, your locations using GPS, Wi-Fi and Mobile
network masts, in order to locate the handset (depending on which services
are turned on).
Location services also enhance some apps. such as Maps, Latitude, and
others, which can provide directions and local information (such as shopping,
I have read that the information is stored on the handset which can be
downloaded and/or read from the phone, providing its location history.
Notifications Area (where the clock, battery, and signal meter is located)
Press the HTC logo and swipe downward to access the “Notifications” area.
This area will show you notifications on mail, messages, SMS/MMS, system
information such as error messages and alerts.
Quick access to connections is also available here (though I prefer to use the
„widget‟ on the home screen as you don‟t have to do this).
Swipe upward from the bottom of the screen to hide the Notifications area.
When I first turned on the handset, I could see my centre “Home Screen” on
which I could see on screen icons which are shortcuts to an app. and a
There are 7 home screens! At first I thought “Why would you need 7 home
screens?” It soon became apparent why.
The Home Screen being displayed is denoted by a small silver line which can
be seen just above the “Phone” icon. You can scroll 3 screens left and 3
screens right from the centre screen. Pressing the Home „soft key‟ will return
you to the centre home screen.
Press and hold the Home „soft key‟ and a list of recently used applications is
(One of the screens has a „widget‟ which I find very useful. It is a dark grey
bar with 5 icons; Wi-Fi ¦ Bluetooth ¦ GPS ¦ Sync ¦ Brightness
I have moved this to the centre screen so I can turn each service on/off easily,
without having to access “Menu -> Settings -> Wireless & Networks” to make
Each home screen is highly customisable. You can add:
Apps – directly open an app without going to the “all apps” folder
Widgets – some apps offer widgets which allow you to display
information on the home screen (e.g. weather)
Shortcuts for specific features – directly access certain features offered
by an app
Shortcut to folders – e.g. shortcut directly to the Bluetooth received
Customising your home screens is easy done, press and hold an icon until it
turns red and vibrates; drag the icon to the “Edit” option to change widget
options, or to “Remove” to remove it from the screen. Add to your screens by
pressing and holding an empty space on the screen (or use the Personalise
option under the Menu button).
What have I done with my phone?
The 3 left screens I have dedicated „widgets‟ for Reading SMS/MMS ¦ My
Agenda (Calendar) ¦ My Email Inbox
These allow me to view each item without having to access the app via the
Menu “soft key”.
3 Screens right I have apps for: Media ¦ Games ¦ System Tools
I soon filled up the 7 home screens! There are so many customisation
options available to make the handset really work for you.
Press and hold the Search „soft key‟ to active voice commands. I have used
this feature a few times and found it is quite good. I have been able to do web
searches by voice command and call numbers in my contacts. Voice
commands seem to be very comprehensive. You can see what you can do
by viewing the Google Voice actions video at:
The main draw of owning a smart phone is the ability to download apps.
A lot of Google apps are preloaded onto the handset, such as:
GMail – Google Mail app.
Google search – direct Google search (can also be accessed using the
Search “soft key”
Latitude – a mapping and location app.
Android Market - Android app market place to download 1000‟s of free
and paid for apps.
You Tube – you tube app optimising your searching and viewing
experience on mobile devices
Quick Office – view and edit common office documents
Market – Google‟s official Android Market place
The handset also comes preloaded with a lot of “Orange” apps, some of
which incur further charges from Orange;
App Shop – an Orange app market
Backup – Orange will offer to back up your contacts to their server.
o I have prevented the app from automatically backing up my
contacts as they are all held on the University exchange server.
Open the Backup app, select settings -> frequency of back up ->
select manual back up and “save”
Games – Links to Orange games store
Mail – an email client from Orange, this is chargeable (use “mail by
HTC” to prevent incurring further charges)
Maps – Maps from Orange, monthly subscription applies
Orange Plus – offers SIM services which I have never needed to use
Orange Wednesdays – app which allows easy access to “Orange
Photo – a photo editing app
Ringtones – buy ringtones from Orange
Traffic TV – a subscription service for UK traffic info from Orange
Signal Boost – an Orange app which provides a boost to your signal
using Wi-Fi (further details below)
HTC also provide apps like HTC Hub, HTC Likes and Mail by HTC. I have not
as yet investigated what HTC offer.
The “Mail by HTC” app should be used for accessing your Exchange
email/calendar/contacts. How to set up this is available on the telecoms web
Some apps, once launched, continue to run on the handset. In fact, it seems
to me, most apps like to run all the time, especially the Orange installed apps.
Running applications can be managed using; Menu -> Settings ->
Applications where they can be managed.
Some apps work best by leaving them running (e.g. the BBC News app.
which will update its self to provide the latest information), others apps. such
as Open Signal Maps must run to provide data collection services. Some
games apps. also run even when you have backed out of the app. (e.g.
In my experience the handset is very capable of running these apps. and still
not slow down.
Of course, the more apps. left running, the faster the drain on the battery. This
is where you will find your own personal balance between functionality and
battery conservation. (I have installed an advanced task manager app from
the Google market place, and have installed a shortcut to a specific task,
namely “Press to end” which, after configuration, kills all apps except those I
have „excluded‟). Many pre-installed apps tend to restart, but others I have
started do get killed.
Killing apps. that I am not currently using helps me conserve my battery and
ensure an app. is only using the data network when I want it too.
There is a general consensus on all of the Android forums that it‟s better to
leave them running. The though being: that it takes more power to restart
apps. which do not want to be killed. Figure that one out for yourself.
Accounts and Sync
Under Menu -> Settings, is an option called Accounts & Sync. This feature
allows you to set up accounts such as Exchange Active sync (used to
synchronise your university exchange (email) account), Google mail, Face
book, Filckr, Twitter, Hotmail, Yahoo and Weather (others can be added
depending on whether the app offers the service), which you can set up to
automatically sync those accounts to your handset.
Setting your Exchange Active sync to only forward mail periodically (I have it
set to 10 mins) will conserve your battery power and data consumption.
An „always on‟ Push setting means your handset is always trying to check for
new mail, increasing power usage and potentially data usage (which is a
particular concern when roaming).
There are options to auto-sync the accounts and to allow „background data‟
where apps. can sync, send and receive data at any time. This is required for
your email to be pushed to the handset when you are not using it, e.g. in your
pocket or bag.
Note: I have noticed that I sometimes get an error message saying “There are
problems with the security certificate for this site. This certificate is not from a
trusted authority”, and I have to acknowledge the error message within the
Notifications area and click Continue. This generally seems to occur when
the handset only has a GPRS connection, I‟ve not seen this happening when
there is a 3G/HSPA or Wi-Fi connection.
Also, when only on a GPRS connection, synchronisation is slow and other
error message may be given (such as IO Time out). Retrying usually resolves
Standard Voice (2G) - The normal signal bar will display the strength of the
signal being received and is actually separate from the mobile data
connection. This allows calls and SMS to be made/received.
Mobile Data (2.5G GPRS & EDGE, 3G and 3.5G+/HSPA) – Mobile data
connections can be turned on and off, under the Menu -> Settings -> Wireless
and Networks (and via the Notifications area Quick Settings option). Of
course, the whole point of owning a smart phone is to have an active data
connection, whether it be mobile data, USB, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, to enable
Wi-Fi – Standard Wi-Fi adaptor allows you to use Wi-Fi anywhere you can
find a signal. Under Menu -> Settings -> Wireless & Networks you will find
Wi-Fi settings. Here you can view all networks the handset can see and tell
you if the network is open or secured. You can enter credentials here to allow
connections to be made.
On campus Wi-Fi SSID “newcastle-university” is secured with 802.1x EAP. To
make a successful connection to the Wi-Fi network select “newcastle-
university”, a dialog box will appear with “Phase 2 authentication” and
MSCHAPV2 already selected, scroll down the page to “Identity”. Enter your
log-in credentials (e.g. email@example.com), scroll down further then enter your
“Wireless password” which is the password you use to log into your desktop
PC and hit connect. The handset will make a connection to the Wi-Fi network
and your handset will obtain an IP address enabling you to use the connection
for internet access.
Bluetooth – Bluetooth settings can be adjusted via Menu -> Settings ->
Wireless & Networks. All of the standard Bluetooth functions are available
I have noticed that the mobile data connection does drop out from time to
time, especially when switching network connections. The handset always re-
establishes the connection after 10 seconds. I do not believe that this is a fault
of the handset and is not service affecting.
The first thing I noticed is that the handset likes to use the data side of the
mobile network; sometimes I‟m not sure which app. is sending/receiving data.
Some apps expect to receive a data connection in order to provide services to
the app (such as face book/twitter) or to provide in-app adverts, etc…
Using Wi-Fi instead will save your data allowance from being used up quickly,
and I always update the phone and apps. using Wi-Fi. (One app. update was
20MB and my allowance is 500MB per month, so you can see it could easily
use up the data allowance) .
I have downloaded an app. called 3G Watchdog from the Android market
place. This little app keeps track of the mobile data usage and tells you how
much has been consumed. Tweak the settings and you can see how much of
your monthly data allowance you have left.
Signal Boost (Orange App)
Signal Boost is a pre-installed app. from Orange, and only available on
Signal Boost uses a technology called UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access)
which allows your handset to connect to Orange via a Wi-Fi connection.
There is an icon on one of the home screens (and under the „All Apps‟ menu)
for Signal Boost which can be used to turn on the feature.
Once enabled, whenever you connect to an available Wi-Fi network, the
handset will try to „log-in‟ to the Orange network, boosting the mobile network
coverage. When enabled and Wi-Fi switched on, a House icon appears in the
notification bar. It is RED when enabled but no active connection to Orange
exists, and GREEN when there is a successful connection to Orange.
I have enabled the feature and have been able to make and receive calls
even when no mobile network signal exists.
There are no further options available. It‟s either enabled or disabled. You
cannot force it to make an active connection; it will do so when and if it can.
I have found that day to day I get 2 days use of the handset. However, if I use
any of the media apps. such as iPlayer (which requires Wi-Fi), the battery
drain can mean I need to recharge during the day.
It seems Wi-Fi uses a lot of power, even when it is just left on and the handset
is not being used, so I always turn it off when I don‟t need it. I would
recommend turning GPS and Bluetooth off when you are not using an app.
that needs it (e.g. navigation or headset/car speaker)
A power saver option, under Menu -> Settings -> Power, is available on the
handset which can reduce your battery consumption when power falls below a
threshold which you can configure. The power saver can disable background
data (not recommended as this will affect your email service) Wi-Fi, blue
tooth, screen brightness and timeout, display animations and haptic feedback
(vibrations) to conserve battery power automatically.
Screen brightness can be adjusted under Menu-> Settings -> Display
There is an option for Auto-Adjust which will use the ambient light sensor to
adjust brightness. I prefer to use the „Brightness‟ button on the short cut bar
on my home screen as I can adjust the brightness from Low -> Med -> High at
the touch of a button. It‟s really useful when in bright sunshine to be able to
turn the brightness high quickly without having to struggle to go via the Menu.
(I have installed an app. called „Advanced Task Manager‟ which has a feature
that tells you what services/apps. are using the battery power. This has
helped me to understand and adjust settings, etc. to manage my power
usage. I think, untamed, the handset would eat power. It definitely seems to
me that before I made any changes, I felt that I had to recharge the battery
more often. The consensus among Android user forums seems to be that it
takes more power to keep re-starting apps, better to leave them running in
See section under Home Screen(s) heading for my tips on how to make
managing connections, GPS and your screen brightness easy.
What do you think?
I would like to hear your own stories on using the handset and any tips, etc.
that you have found when using your Desire S. We would like to share your
experiences and tips with other university users.
Please forward them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading, it‟s quite a lot of information but I hope you find it useful in
making your handset choice, and getting the most out of the handset.